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A Mediterranean Summer (capers and sumac and grapes, oh my!)

I’ve already put up some grape leaves for future dolmathes. And the caper project (or as Ellen dubbed it, The Caper Caper) is winding down just as the sumac and grapes are ripening. Figs ready soon.

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We’ve got a decent number of jars of capers put up, but I doubt it will be enough to get us all the way through till their season next year. We keep finding more uses for them, and also we keep proudly giving them to friends and family.

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Speaking of family, many visitors are showing up at the end of the month for the wedding of bf’s younger son, and I’m stocking up on foraged treats to share with them. Besides the capers, I’ve got a few bottles of elderflower champagne, some naturally fizzy fermented ginger ale, and now that the sumac is coloring up I’m going to make plenty of sumac “juice” to have on hand for both alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks.

Passionfruit is ripening as well, and I’ve been stockpiling the juice in the freezer. Stay tuned for a post on the easiest way to free the juice from the many seeds, and what to do with passionfruit juice once you’ve got it.

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I’ve also been foraging Saint John’s Wort. The yellow flowers turn oil a stunning crimson. I use the oil externally for nerve pain such as sciatica, or that old knee surgery scar that still bothers me.

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In a month, I’ll be back in New York where I’ll hit the ground running with a busy schedule that includes foraging tours, botanical classes, and book events. If you haven’t already gotten your copy of Northeast Foraging: 120 Wild and Flavorful Edibles from Beach Plums to Wineberries, you can get one from me in person if you’ll be in the NYC area after mid-August. Or maybe we can meet up at the Midwest Harvest Festival in September.

…and drumroll, please: Preserving Everything: Can, Culture, Pickle, Freeze, Ferment, Dehydrate, Salt, Smoke, and Store Fruits, Vegetables, Meat, Milk, and More will be released on August 4th (Kindle version on September 5th).

Apparently Amazon pays attention to pre-order numbers as far as how prominently they promote a book, so if you’re thinking of getting it please go ahead and pre-order, and thanks! Or you can get one from me in person at this Slow Food NYC event.

Happy Summer,

Leda

P.S. – For those of you who’ve been concerned about the fact that I’m in Israel with all that’s going on, thank you for your concern. This is my sustainable food systems blog primarily focused on foraging and food preservation (although I leave myself wiggle room to share great local food ideas that don’t fit into those categories). I have decided to leave politics out of it, so this is all I’m going to say about that.

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Collecting and Curing Wild Capers

img_0294I’ve enlisted my boyfriend Ricky to help collect capers. Capers are the pickled, or sometimes salt-cured, unopened flower buds of Capparis spinosa, a plant that is native to Mediterranean countries. It sure as heck doesn’t grow back in my old Brooklyn ‘hood (but for my BK buddies and others cold-winter climes, you can make a nice mock up version by pickling nasturtium buds).

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Collecting capers is a delicate, time-consuming business because the plants are thorny and primed to snag both clothing and skin. They are tough perennials that frequently grow out of rock walls and other dry spots. The delicate looking flowers give no clue as to just how tough a plant this is.

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Unless you’re salt-curing them, capers need to be soaked in changes of water for three days before they are brined. This means some caper management if you’re bringing home a handful a day and trying to keep track of which have soaked for how long.

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Once cured, capers are an essential ingredient in many dishes such as pasta putanesca. I’ve decided that since the plants are so prolific here, we shouldn’t ever have to buy capers. Ricky points out, jokingly, that if you calculated our hourly wage for collecting and curing them these would be the priciest capers ever. Okay, but that’s not the point. The point is that they will be our capers, and they will be delicious, and we had fun together while we were outside gathering them.

But the flowering season for Capparis spinosa is already winding down, and we don’t yet have enough to last a whole year (not to mention that I’d like to give some as gifts). Better get busy…

I’m trying four different versions of curing them: 2 in vinegar-based brines, 1 lacto-fermented, and a simple dry salting. I’m also going to put up a jar of the immature fruits to see if we like those (you see them for sale sometimes). Here’s the recipe for the simplest vinegar brine method that I tried for the first time last year, other recipes posted as soon as I’m sure they’re good.

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Changing the subject for a shameless plug moment, I really enjoyed doing the interview for this post on the New York Botanical Garden’s site. It was nice to be asked thoughtful questions such as whether and why kids should be taught foraging.

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Free Slow Food NYC Event

Tomorrow night (Thursday, May 15th) there’s a Slow Food NYC event at The Farm on Adderley restaurant. It’s free, and you don’t have to be a Slow Food member to attend (although I highly recommend becoming a member of that excellent organization if you aren’t already!)

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I’ll be doing a talk about foraging, including how wild edibles fit in with a sustainable food system and some issues specific to urban foraging. The Farm on Adderley will be offering up some cocktails inspired by foraged ingredients. And I’ll have copies of Northeast Foraging: 120 Wild and Flavorful Edibles from Beach Plums to Wineberries available if you’re interested in getting a signed copy.

Here is the event info. Hope to see you there!

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7 Minutes to Forage

I checked my NYC Bus Time phone app and saw that I had seven minutes until the next bus. I was on my way to teach an edible weeds class for NYBG. Normally, I’d have the students out on the grounds for most of the class, but the sky was ominously gray and the forecast predicted heavy thunderstorms.

Sure, I had the backup of PowerPoint slides, but that’s just not the same. A slide can’t convey the felty feel of a burdock leaf

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or the ID-clinching smell of field garlic.

img_0145(The knot in the photograph is for what I call “the bay leaf method.” When field garlic leaves get too tough to use like chives, I tie them like this and use them to flavor soups and sauces. Remove the garlic knot before serving.)

So I decided to collect some samples just in case we ended up having to spend most of the class indoors.

I dashed across the street to a promisingly weedy-looking patch of Van Cortlandt Park (in the Bronx). I quickly gathered dandelion, field garlic, burdock leaves, common mallow, curly dock, chickweed, shepherd’s purse, and lamb’s quarters. Then I got nervous about missing my bus and scampered back across the street, arriving at the bus stop with a minute to spare.

Through a fence at the bus stop, I spotted mugwort growing amidst spent daffodils. I reached through and added that to my collection just as the B9 bus pulled up.

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All of the plants I gathered for class samples were invasives: I wasn’t harming those species populations by collecting them. Far from it! Many of those introduced plants (a.k.a. “weeds”) are a threat to slower growing native plants.

Lately I’ve been seeing the word invasivore crop up online. It refers to folks who seek to balance their immediate environment by eating the invasive plants that are crowding out other species. Many invasive species are also delicious edibles. I think it’s a grand idea to help your immediate environment by eating it into balance!

I didn’t eat the samples I’d gathered, though. That harvest was far too close to a heavily trafficked street to be food. But I know some safe collecting spots nearby, and I’ll be headed to them soon, when I’m not running to catch a bus.

Meanwhile, the sun came out, the temp reached 80F, and I got to take the class out on the grounds after all. One of the students added to our collection of edible weed samples.img_02141

Foraging for class samples was definitely a more interesting way to wait for a bus than, well, waiting for a bus.

Shameless plugs: My new book, Northeast Foraging: 120 Wild and Flavorful Edibles from Beach Plums to Wineberries was just released by Timber Press last month! You can order it here.

My upcoming foraging tours and other events are here.

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Northeast Foraging…and Is It Spring Yet?

magnolias-smThe magnolias are in peak bloom, many of the cherry blossoms have opened, the daffodils are showing off…but seriously folks, there was snow on the ground yesterday. What’s up with that?

Nonetheless, the foraging season is in full swing with daylily shoots already approaching the too tall to be tender stage, mugwort, violets, and garlic mustard are up, and there’s field garlic galore.

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The “yard squid” (young dandelion crowns) are almost finished, which I’m kind of sad about because they are by far my favorite part to eat of dandelion. Here they are battered (some acorn in the batter) and fried and served with a dipping sauce.

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The dandelion plants are starting to bloom, at which point the leaves get too bitter for my tastes, but ah, dandelion wine, dandelion root “coffee”…

Japanese knotweed is also at prime harvesting size right now in NYC.

And violets, with their mild-tasting edible leaves and flowers are just starting to flower. Mostly I’m tossing them into salads, but maybe I’ll go for that electric blue syrup again.

Do you know how far behind I am on updating this blog (hangs head in shame and embarrassment)? My new book Northeast Foraging: 120 Wild and Flavorful Edibles from Beach Plums to Wineberries was officially released two weeks ago and I’m just now getting around to announcing it here (hey, I was busy actually foraging, and teaching, and…)

I’ve updated my events page to include upcoming botany+food related events (including foraging tours) in Brooklyn, Manhattan, the Bronx, plus a trip to the North Carolina Wild Foods Weekend, where I get to be the keynote speaker at the end of the month. I’ll also be in Massachusetts at the beginning of May to do a talk and book signing for a private botanical club.

Whew. End of shameless promo. Back to the plants and the food and the life.

Cheers,
Leda

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Good-bye, Brooklyn, and Hello, Northeast Foraging

Just over a week ago two extraordinary things happened in my life: I moved out of Brooklyn, which was my home for almost two decades, and I received my author’s advance copy of Northeast Foraging: 120 Wild and Flavorful Edibles from Beach Plums to Wineberries. The book arrived on my very last night in the Park Slope homestead I had lived in for almost 11 of my years in BK.

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Northeast Foraging: 120 Wild and Flavorful Edibles from Beach Plums to Wineberries
is a field guide that Timber Press and I have been working on for two years. The book is available for pre-order, and if you order now it will be in your hands by the start of April – just in time for the northeastern foraging season to get into full swing.

I’ll let others do the rest of the shameless promo for me at the end of this post, but first I want to remember my BK homestead:

GT a.k.a. Gitania

GT a.k.a. Gitania

Mom trimming CSA green beans in the garden.

Mom trimming CSA green beans in the garden.

Main room in da Slope

Main room in da Slope

Ella at the top of the garden stairs

Ella at the top of the garden stairs

The back door

The back door

I spotted this fellow a few days before I moved. He's in the branches of one of the over 14-foot tall elderberry shrubs that I started from 7-inch slips.

I spotted this fellow a few days before I moved. He's in the branches of one of the over 14-foot tall elderberry shrubs that I started from 7-inch slips.

Advance praise for Northeast Foraging: 120 Wild and Flavorful Edibles from Beach Plums to Wineberries

Leda Meredith has produced the best foraging guide for the Northeast–a book that wild food gatherers of all skill levels will want to own.”

Sam Thayer, author of The Forager’s Harvest: A Guide to Identifying, Harvesting, and Preparing Edible Wild Plants
and Nature’s Garden: A Guide to Identifying, Harvesting, and Preparing Edible Wild Plants

Leda Meredith’s Northeast Foraging is that rare field guide where you sense the guide is a living presence right beside you as you are out foraging for edible wild plants. Leda writes with such a personable “trailside” manner that you come to feel you’re having a conversation with her about what you’re finding, how to be certain it’s what you want, and how to gather and prepare it for eating or preserve it for later use. This is as close as you can come to having the author take you by the hand.”

Gary Lincoff

Author of The Joy of Foraging: Gary Lincoff’s Illustrated Guide to Finding, Harvesting, and Enjoying a World of Wild Food
and instructor at The New York Botanical Garden

“This book is loaded with useful, accurate info about wild foods and what to do with them, and it’s entertaining too. Whether you’re a beginner or expert, you’ll love it as much as I did.”

Wildman Steve Brill, America’s Go-to Guy for Foraging

Leda Meredith possesses a depth of knowledge about wild edible plants surpassed by few modern foragers, and her Northeast Foraging will become an invaluable guide for the feast in the East. I especially love her tips on preserving the wild harvest — Nature waits for no one, and Meredith knows you must gather while you can. I will be sure to carry this book with me whenever I am east of the Great Plains.

Hank Shaw

Author of the James Beard Award–winning website Hunter Angler Gardener Cook,

Author, Hunt, Gather, Cook: Finding the Forgotten Feast,

and Duck, Duck, Goose: The Ultimate Guide to Cooking Waterfowl, Both Farmed and Wild

“What I love about this book is that it’s not simply a guide to plant identification. Leda sets you up with the framework for what it means to forage as an undertaking. Mandatory guide for any Chef who is serious about foraging in the Northeast.”

Tom Kearny

Chef at The Farm on Adderley

Order Northeast Foraging: 120 Wild and Flavorful Edibles from Beach Plums to Wineberries

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My Transcontinental Pressure Canner

Notice anything odd about this photo of my suitcase while I was packing it for a recent trip from Brooklyn to California, and then back to NY followed by Jerusalem via Moscow?

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Yes, that large shiny thing in the middle. That’s a pressure canner. A brand, spanking new one. But I already had one in Brooklyn, where my tiny one bedroom can’t really hold too many objects as large as this one.

That’s not why I packed it, though. I packed it because I was about to be on the road for 2 months, with a deadline on a food preservation book at the end of that time. I need my food gear with me while I finish the food pres book.

So I stuffed the canner full of clothes. My suitcase didn’t quite close, but I rigged it with some wire twisted and tied between the zipper pulley tabs. And I took it to CA, and back to NY. It followed me through a brief layover in Moscow, and now it’s here with me in Israel.

Where I just finished canning some fish stock in it (it is no longer a virgin canner). Our favorite fish monger at the souk (market) was happy to give us fish heads and bones for free, and I hate to waste free food.

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If you’re still not sure why I had to haul this piece of equipment with me across a continent or three, here’s the deal:

You can safely can fruits, pickles, and tomatoes (with added acid) in a boiling water bath using nothing fancier than a big, deep pot and some canning jars and lids. But to safely can un-pickled vegetables and any animal product, you need a pressure canner.

Of course, there are also other food preservation methods including fermentation that don’t require special equipment. But I’m covering ALL of the food preservation methods for my book – you get why I need my gear with me?

Yeah, you can buy pressure canners here. But I already had an extra one, so it seemed silly to spend the money on a third pressure canner. Anyway, all’s well that ends well: me and my pressure canner are safely here in J-town.

(Warning: Shameless Plug) Want to pre-order my next books?:

Northeast Foraging: 120 Wild and Flavorful Edibles from Beach Plums to Wineberries

Preserving Everything: Can, Culture, Pickle, Freeze, Ferment, Dehydrate, Salt, Smoke, and Store Fruits, Vegetables, Milk, Meat, and More

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Cold Weather Foraging

chickweed-medAs temps drop, I’m gearing my Mother Earth News foraging blog towards plants that can be harvested even when nights are below freezing. Here’s the first in the series, on chickweed (Stellaria media).

Today I did a quick foraging foray for magnolia buds and sassafras twigs. I had an accomplice, I mean apprentice, along with me ;) The super-efficient, bee-line foraging I would’ve done by myself was contrasted with wanting to share as much information  as possible with today’s foraging buddy.

And that highlighted something I often mention when I’m leading foraging tours: an experienced forager doesn’t just wander out into the landscape hoping to find something to eat. She knows which plants are in season, and which ecosystems (pine barrens, garden weeds, deciduous forest, etc.) they are going to be found in. The odds are ever in her favor when she sets out on her treasure hunt armed with this knowledge.

Late fall and winter are not bad times for foraging if you know what you are looking for, especially if you identified the plants during the warm months when they still had flowers and leaves. The takeaway here is that foraging is a year-round pursuit: what you learn in summer will serve you when there is snow on the ground.

But don’t worry if you’re new to this and too eager to wait for next spring: I’ll be sharing lots of cold weather foraging tips over the next few months!

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Something for Nothing Recipes

I love something for nothing recipes so much that I’m considering writing a whole book full of them (okay, not until after I finish writing the current one). What I mean by something for nothing is taking scraps that would otherwise end up in my compost bin and turning them into good, useful pantry items.

Here are a couple of suggestions:

homemade chicken stock

While you’re making the Thanksgiving stuffing, stash the tail ends of celery, onions, parsley stems, etc. in the freezer rather than tossing them. Use them along with the bird carcass to make turkey bone soup stock once the festivities are over.

And if you’re making apple pie (or applesauce, or any other apple recipe), don’t throw out the cores and peels! Use them to make apple scrap vinegar, apple jelly, and homemade pectin.

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Holiday Recipes from Leda’s Urban Homestead

With Thanksgiving around the corner, I’m in a holiday prep state of mind. Here’s some of the stuff I’ve been experimenting with in the kitchen. I’ve linked to the recipes where possible:

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Black Walnut Ice Cream. This one is thanks to my mom, Jackie Gordon, and Nicole Taylor, with whom I spent a fun few hours shelling black walnuts.

Naturally Red Spiced Apple Rings

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Homemade Ricotta Cheese

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Jellied Cranberry Sauce with Spicebush and Orange. If you didn’t forage any spicebush berries earlier this fall, or if Lindera benzoin doesn’t grow where you live, you can either use the spice substitution I suggest in the recipe, or order some spicebush from Integration Acres (they sell it as “Appalachian Allspice”).

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Homemade Bacon I used some of this in a dish for a holiday brunch yesterday (the recipe has been dubbed “L’eggs Meredith”). Kind of a cross between eggs florentine and eggs benedict: I did the whole poached egg on an english muffin covered with hollandaise thing, but under the each egg was a melange of lamb’s quarters greens and homemade bacon bits.

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